Here in America, as of July 2011, it’s all about the economy. Since I have new information, and almost nobody else is getting it, I’ll rehash. This is not your father’s recession. To simplify things for the sake of getting through a lot of facts to the underlying meaning of things:
Modern economics began in 1929. In the Soviet Union, Lenin and his guys were working the Five Year plan thing, and propagandizing tremendous successes. The world’s first, centrally planned and managed, utterly scientific economy was turning a poverty stricken peasant culture into a paradise for the working person.
Meanwhile, our stock market crashed, everyone else’s stock market crashed, our economies froze up, our banks failed, and things in general didn’t look to good for capitalism. At least not anything like the kind of capitalism that preceded The Crash. And for sure, not good compared to the overwhelming successes coming out of the Soviet Union.
So then we elected FDR, and then he listened to John Maynard Keynes, and we tried borrowing and spending to “stimulate” the economy. And after four years of borrowing and spending, and amassing a debt that frightened the sober and responsible politicians and public of the day, we tried backing off on the spending. And the economy immediately crashed back to Earth. This led FDR’s Secretary of the Treasury to his famous words of despair in 1939:
“We are spending more money than we have ever spent before, and it does not work. After eight years we have just as much unemployment as when we started, and an enormous debt to boot. – U.S. Secretary Henry Morgenthau. . . May 1939.”
So we did a slow-motion stumble into WWII. And the industrial and military demands of a full scale global conflagration finally put America back to work, rebuilt our industrial plant, and left us with a crushing debt that we could never have repaid and would have crippled us for decades (post-War Great Britain). Except that the misfortune of the rest of the world, their industry and agriculture in smoking ruins, was our salvation. Operating without foreign competition, American industry could not avoid becoming the most prosperous in the world. And we did, and we thought it would just go on and on forever.
By 1970, the rest of the world was well on its way to rebuilding, while America was trying to fight a war in Viet Nam and fund an expensive new social welfare system at the same time. More or less without raising taxes to pay for it. Besides our deteriorating relative economic situation, the soul and spirit of America were shattered between Nov 22nd, 1963 and Aug 9th, 1974. In the period from John F Kennedy’s assassination and Richard M Nixon’s resignation, something deep and elemental in the soul of America turned from what had been good and outward and forward looking, into a perverted version that was bad and inward and backward looking.
I personally attribute most of this process of perversion on the irrational and undiscerning anti-Viet Nam movement from the Left, and the unthinkingly reflexive defensive posture from the Right. We are still locked in those poses. But that was only one of several processes of perversion that occurred during that time. Less heralded, but no less perverse, was President Nixon making the decision to unilaterally take America off the gold standard. As is my theme in life, the details become almost irrelevant trees while the forest is plainly obvious to any who would look. By 1974, America was no longer what it had been in 1963.
By the time that James Carter was leaving the White House, American prosperity was fully and truly an unsustainable illusion. But let me divert for a moment….
I was listening to Ali Velshi on CNN this Sunday and I am beginning to hear pundits edging toward what I have been saying for some time. In his show this Sunday, one of the talking heads stated the obvious: in the past 30 years, American industrial output has gone UP by 100%, but American industrial employment is DOWN by 30%. Hah! There you go. Industrial automation has led to increased productivity, and in the face of constant demand, increased productivity always kills jobs. The means of wealth creation has been shifting from the labor of humans to the output of capital investments. Labor is producing less wealth, while capital is producing more wealth. Do I need to explain why more wealth is accumulating to capital, and that labor is less well compensated than before?
So anyway, to get back to President Carter, he was followed by Ronald Reagan. And this is where the most modern era began. Today, in 2011, the only people who disagree with what President Reagan did with the economy are people who don’t understand what he did. Having no clue what else to do, he began trying to get money into the economy to stimulate demand. Classic Keynesian deficit stimulus spending stuff. Progressives don’t like Reagan because they want their deficit stimulus spending to be dispensed in a different way, but you can always count on a Progressive to know exactly what they want from the government, and who they expect to pay for it.
Under Reagan’s somewhat innovative Keynesian deficit stimulus spending the federal debt took off on the trajectory that has brought us to the ruination we face today. It sort of worked, as this plan did for FDR from 1932-1936. Reagan’s successor, GHW Bush tried playing out FDR’s 3rd and 4th terms by taking us to war. That worked, but it didn’t last long enough, we didn’t lose enough ships and airplanes and tanks and jeeps, and we didn’t destroy the entire industrial capacity of Europe and Japan. So by 1992 things crashed back to Earth. And Bill Clinton got elected.
Bill Clinton is equal parts smart and clever. That’s a hard combination to beat, but he managed to beat himself anyway. In 1994 he lost the Congress to the Republicans, which turned out to be a curse in disguise. Because with a smarter, but less clever, Newt Gingrich wielding the actual reins of power, the nation was led to attempt a path to prosperity that had not been purposefully tried by the federal government before. Newt and Bill took the nation toward a “wealth effect” bubble in the stock market of HISTORIC proportions.
This bubble, the DotCom bubble, did result in windfall revenues and a temporarily (and artificially) balanced budget, but when it burst in 2000, it blew the whole stock market and the economy with it (since most of that apparent ‘prosperity’ was based on hollow equity values).
So George Bush resorted to more deficit stimulus spending, tax rebates, and exhortations to “Go shopping!”. To this day, GWB’s antics provide grist for ridicule, but all he was doing was continuing the prior decades’ pattern of the federal government, enabled by the voting population, trying to prop up a hollow economy. And then Bush took us to war, combining Keynesian deficit stimulus spending AND war. But it was to no avail, the American economy moribundly refused to be stimulated. So looking back on his predecessor’s success with creating a stock market bubble, GWB and the Congress conspired to create a new bubble, in housing this time. It just seemed so unfair that only people with actual jobs and decent credit ratings could own homes….
This was a terribly dangerous strategy to attempt, and it shows the depths of despair among those who knew what was really going on. And it worked almost as well as the Gingrich/Clinton stock market bubble. But when it blew up, it did far more damage and took down the entire financial structure of the nation. Only massive public intervention saved the situation from utter collapse, but that intervention was so artlessly done that it left a situation of zombie banks and assetholes we are no closer to resolving than we were in 2009.
Which brings us to the Summer of 2011. This might be remembered as the year that America faced the music. We really have no choice. Our ability to generate wealth is both relatively diminished and highly concentrated. We are going to have a very hard time putting together anything that prior generations would consider a “recovery”. Our public and private debt (from thirty years of Keynesian deficit stimulus spending) is so staggering that it nobody even wants to talk about it. If you think you can bear a glimpse, just take a peek (be ready to look away quickly): http://www.usdebtclock.org/
There are two things America must face if we are to pass to our children the opportunity to be independent and prosperous. First, we must face up to our current situation. There is insufficient demand for the products output by American workers, we are under a mountain of debt, the means by which wealth is created and distributed through society have changed. Second, we must face up to the fact that past politics, past identities, and past policies don’t work and in fact have made our current situation much worse. Progressive vs TeaParty, Republican vs Democrat, “borrow and spenders” vs “budget balancers”, these are all the classifications of failure.
If we don’t face our actual situation, and come up with good outward and forward looking solutions, then America’s future is in peril. I am not optimistic, but I don’t quit. I buy American, a dollar at a time I will create jobs for my family, friends, and neighbors. I spread this message on a daily basis, particularly to the bitterly partisan and cynical. I don’t despair, but I don’t know of a better alternative, either.
G’day all, and may God continue to bless America!